My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 63: Mrs. Miniver (Best Picture Ranking)

Back in 1942, Mrs. Miniver was seen as a strong part of the Allied propaganda to convince people in the USA of the necessarity of the war against Hitler’s Germany. While World War II may be long over, Mrs. Miniver is still a strong and also entertaining tale about a middle-class family (well, maybe not really middle-class since new cars, expensive hats, a big house, a maid and more are not really a problem for them) and how its members are affected by war, air raids and Germans in their kitchen.

Even though Winston Churchill was among the people who considered Mrs. Miniver first-class propaganda for the Allied cause, the movie never truly felt like that to me. It’s a well-made and gripping tale but Mrs. Miniver obviously lost some of its impact over the years. Today, it seems mostly interesting from a historic point-of-view and, even though the glorification of the Minivers as the ideal family might be a bit annoying, shines mostly as a human drama about the changes of life in extraordinary circumstances.

It’s not given that the movie is called Mrs. Miniver – she may be the most central character but she is not really its deciding force. Mrs. Miniver gives various characters the chance to develop their own storylines and their own fate in this troubled time. Greer Garson fills her part with the expected grace, charm but also to much melodrama that most performances from the 40s tend to inhabit. Her exquisite screen presence may prevent her from truly becoming an ‘every-woman’ and William Wyler obviously wants to put her on a podium of superiority but she still fulfils the tasks given to her with competence and while she may not have been my own choice for Best Actress, I don’t begrudge her win. Another acting Oscar went to Teresa Wright as he daughter-in-law and while my overall affection for her performances has cooled down a bit, she is still a charming and lively presence. Dame May Whitty gives one of her usual ‘heart of gold behind a gritty façade’-performances but she certainly knows how to do it. The men of Mrs. Miniver can't really catch up to the work of these three ladies – Walter Pidgeon may have been Greer Garson’s favourite screen partner and the audience back then apparently couldn’t get enough of them, but there is never much chemistry between them, especially since Pidgeon is often too wooden and limited in his role. Richard Ney as Greer Garson’s son feels too inexperienced in most of his scenes but he has a natural charisma that gives the movie some sparks nonetheless.

These actors carry the story and portray the change that goes through England’s society with the begin of the war. Greer Garson displays the worries and fears of a mother and wife during wartime, Walter Pidgeon’s storyline gets him to Dünkirchen, Richard Ney shows how a rather snobbish and pseudo-intellectual young man can turn into a fighter for his country, Teresa Wright is the young war-bride who must fear that every moment with her husband might be the last while Dame May Whitty has to accept that the days of different classes come to an end and that, to fight against a powerful enemy, all people have to work together. All these ideas and thoughts are certainly interesting but unfortunately the movie often is too simple in its presentation. The rose contest, while an appropriate presentation of England’s friendly society and the opportunity for Dame May Whitty to open up her character more, still comes across as too banal in its execution. The Minivers may appears a loving, average family but it still seems rather unbelievable that, on the eve of World War II, not a single word about politics is ever uttered between them, letting them appear rather naïve and ignorant. Overall, Mrs. Miniver is most powerful in certain scenes and not in its overall plot – Greer Garson and the German soldier in her kitchen, her final scenes with Teresa Wright, the tender love between Carol and Vin or the shocking scenes during the air raid. In these moments, Mrs. Miniver becomes a powerful lecture on the horror of war without ever appearing preachy (certainly quite an achievement considering it was made right in the middle of the war it portrays) but other moments like the drunk maid, the annoying other two children or overly sentimental scenes destroy a lot of the effects of these more powerful events.

Mrs. Miniver is a completely logical choice for the win and it still carries a powerful message but at the same time suffers from various flaws which prevent it from becoming a truly great movie.


Louis Morgan said...

When I last watched it I thought it was fine but not spectacular, its been awhile though.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you were really rough on Mrs. Miniver, I think it's way too low but based on your review it is perfectly placed. I love it anyway! Great ranking so far!